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This cycle, many campaigns will use digital dial testing for the first time to shape their messages up to the minute. Online surveys, focus groups and communities can be tapped to test ads, messages, or clips from speeches and debates.

These online tools are coming on strong. Here are a couple of things campaigns should keep in mind.

Dial testing for campaigns developed to meet the need to capture what research participants were thinking in the moment, without the negative impact of groupthink or recall-based errors. Before widespread broadband penetration and access to robust online panels, this research was done primarily in-person.

Now, online testing of ads and other media clips can be done consistently and reliably in many markets. While free metrics like number of views or shares are readily available for most online media, dial testing can reveal more of what people think about the content overall as well as its individual components.

It’s true that in some cases reliable online panelists can still be hard to come by, but some firms such as Research Now are investing to enlarge their sample size down to the congressional level and doing voter-file matching.

Not all providers are at that level, but the industry is getting there. Meanwhile, it’s become much easier to stack multiple sources together to get the sample size needed for small-market coverage.

For instance, my company recently worked with Invoke Solutions to conduct a live, research session that coupled online dial testing with qualitative exercises to A/B test the format of two theatrical movie trailers. Conducting the testing online allowed us to sample 102 participants and complete the live session in 45 minutes.

When it comes to candidate and issue campaigns, online dial testing offers the ability to capture and analyze those in-the-moment reactions. It doesn't have to replace in-person focus group or telephone polling. In fact, the online findings should be blended with recall-based opinions in order to craft a winning message.

Now more than ever, local and regional sample sizes are becoming large enough to make online dial testing a viable alternative to in-person research.

David Paull is founder and CEO of Dialsmith, developer of the Perception Analyzer dial testing tools for in-person and online research.